Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart beat. It can go undetected for a while, but it eventually causes poor blood flow and symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath and lightheadedness. An estimated three million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation or Afib, the most common arrhythmia – or chaotic heart rhythm. It is a progressive disease that, if left untreated, can lead to stroke and congestive heart failure. It is called “atrial” because the fibrillation, or chaotic contraction of the heart, starts in the upper chambers of the heart, which are called atria.
In Afib, the top chambers of your heart do not contract properly to pump blood to other heart chambers. The poor flow can cause blood to pool in the upper chambers of the heart and cause clots. The blood clots can circulate to other parts of the body, including the brain, causing a blockage or ischemic stroke. This is one reason why blood-thinning medication is an important treatment for Afib.
When Afib is not caused by a heart valve problem or a congenital heart issue, it puts people at five times greater risk of stroke.
While most Afib patients today are treated with medication, about half of all patients are not able to control their abnormal heart rhythm with meds, or find they cannot tolerate the side effects.
Years ago, surgery and first-generation ablation procedures were used to help patients who were no longer served by medications. Today, more precise instruments are used to block the area of heart tissue where the erratic signals – and erratic heartbeat – originate.
In a minimally invasive procedure, a physician trained in cardiac electrophysiology guides small instruments attached to a thin catheter from a vein on the inside of your leg to your heart, and uses tiny electrodes at the tip of the catheter to deliver radiofrequency energy to destroy the problem cells and restore normal heart rhythm.
For Joy Seiler, a small catheter has made a big difference. Seiler and her husband own a construction business, Southern Builders and Interiors Inc., in Jacksonville, where they build and remodel houses. She runs the business side and does interior design. She works on the computer doing invoices and requests and wasn’t able to go out as often to do estimates for remodeling jobs. She also couldn’t spend as much time with her four children and eight grandchildren.
The fifty-five-year-old Jacksonville resident felt short of breath and lightheaded. The episodes would last for five or six hours a day and she was afraid to have her grandchildren over for a visit.
“I’d try to take deep breaths and relax and then it would finally correct itself,” says Seiler, who was diagnosed two years ago with atrial fibrillation (Afib) and placed on medication.
At times, her symptoms would happen when she was driving and she would have to pull her car off to the side of the road.
“It was getting very scary. I had to take action or something was going to happen to me,” she says.
That changed after a new heart ablation procedure in May 2014 performed by Venkata Sagi, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists. Dr. Sagi used a new THERMOCOOL® SmartTOUCH® Catheter for patients suffering from atrial fibrillation.
Dr. Sagi and fellow electrophysiologists Scott Lee, MD, and Chris Ruisi, MD, were the first in the Jacksonville area to start using the new catheter.
The catheter helps to improve patient outcomes, increase safety and reduce fluoroscopy exposure. The new technology enables doctors to accurately control the amount of contact force applied to the heart wall during radiofrequency catheter ablation procedures.
Since the procedure in May, Seiler says she’s “been feeling fantastic. I’m relaxing now and getting on with my life and it feels good.”